Scales and other things I’d like to toss off a cliff

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I weigh every day. I don’t stand on a scale and either scream for joy or agony (usually it’s the latter), but I certainly weigh. I weigh my options. I weigh situations and possible outcomes. And, perhaps most of all, I weigh people. I hold them to a standard and measure them according to that standard.

scale

Do I tip the scales in your favor?

Say, for instance, I meet someone who’s Christian. I add a weight to the positive side of the scale. As I get to know her, I discover she’s _______ (insert any denomination here).  If she’s not my denomination, I add a weight to the negative side. Unless she belongs to that arsenic-sipping, snake-bite-encouraging, do-the-hokey-pokey-down-the-aisles church and speaks in “tongues” that sound an awful lot like the lyrics to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (true story of a high school experience I’d rather forget). If she attends that church, then I usually just kick over her scale and walk away. There’s probably nothing she could do to “earn” plus-side pings.

Let’s just say, for giggles, that she is the same denomination. All is kosher. We are a couple of Chatty Cathys, discussing the Bible between sips of tea and bites of crumpets. But then she does the unthinkable. She tells me which church she attends. And, gasp, it’s that one. The one with the pastor who has an earring and wears flip-flops, and smoke machines fill the stage during worship. The one where the youth center is just this side of smaller and with slightly fewer rides than Six Flags. The one I have never attended but have heard through the grapevine (the grapevine “good” Christians produce, because, after all, only good Christians produce fruit, so the grapevine—even though it’s rooted in GOSSIP—must be righteous) that it’s a hotbed of foolishness. Ping ping ping. Suddenly, this woman who had the potential for bestie-hood becomes persona non grata in my circle.

It’s a constant, never-ending battle. All day long I tip the scales according to my standards (or mood). No wonder I’m so tired. Carrying around all these extra weights and scales is quite the burden.

On Saturday, in my booth with Lady Di, a large group of people descended on my quaint, quiet coffee shop in full on baby-shower mode, armed with cupcakes and chaos. Stonewood isn’t small, but it’s not party central. My mood plummeted, my blood pressure spiked, and my scales, well, let’s just say the negative-side pinging wore out my arm. Di and I considered leaving. But we stopped. And waited. We knew that God is bigger than our anger. He is bigger than our frustrations. He is  bigger than any coffee shop or baby shower.

In the midst of the noise and the kids playing hide-and-seek under the tables, the truth of God’s Word smacked me out of my arrogance. Proverbs 20:23 tells us, “The Lord detests double standards; he is not pleased by dishonest scales.” My scales are anything but honest. They are a direct reflection of my heart. Each time I weigh someone, I judge them.

God might as well have written, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” in my spiral. I’m no King Belshazzar, hosting orgies and drinking from the holy Temple cups, but I’m still a sinner. If God were to weigh me on His scale, I’d be lacking. There’s only One Judge. And it certainly isn’t me.

I read an interesting article that includes an explanation of John 5 from Ray C. Stedman. He refers to verse 27 where Jesus informs the Pharisees that His Father has “given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man”.  Stedman clarifies: “In other words, because he has now become a man and understands how we live, how we feel and what we face, he has the right to pass judgment on whether we should have the gift of life or remain in death. It is because Jesus came among us that he understands us. He knows the pressures and the problems we face, therefore he knows clearly when we have reached the place where we are ready to give up depending on ourselves and are able to receive the gift of life.”

He has the right to pass judgment. I do not. He bore the cross. I did not.

Arms outstretched, He dropped the scales and bore the weight of all my sins.

Arms outstretched, He dropped the scales and bore the weight of all my sins.

One of my resolutions this year was to lose weight. Maybe the first thing I need to lose is the scale.

The bargain

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The hubby and I were reading the Bible last night. It’s a bible-in-a-year edition that we borrowed from bestie, Flea. Each day includes Old and New Testament passages, a Psalm, and a Proverb. I love it. It’s refreshing to see the connective tissue throughout the scriptures. Last year I read the entire bible in chronological order.

Bestie Flea's hubby made me this cover. Jealous. You.

Bestie Flea’s hubby made me this cover. Jealous. You.

It was my first time to read the whole bible. In the past, I read sections for purposes of study or passage look-up. I was using the Bible as a reference. Maybe it’s the librarian in me. Maybe it’s the laziness in me. Maybe I was afraid I would hate how upside-down and inside-out it would make my life. Or that I would love it and want more. I’m not sure why (a therapist could explain it after I wore out her couch and my welcome), but I know that I will never go back to that brand of Casino Christianity, randomly picking a machine and hoping to hit a jackpot. I was trying to make the scripture fit my needs. And, boy howdy, was I spiritually bankrupt. The worst part? I LOVE to read. I am a book hoarder. Ish. I would never pick up any other book, read bits and pieces of it and expect, based on those few passages, to know the plot, characters, conflicts and resolutions. That’s just silly. Context is essential to understanding the story. And the Bible is a story. It’s THE story. Of course I need to read it from beginning to end. Of course.

So back to last night. The hubby and I are sitting in our chairs (his is nice but mine is the chair of chairs. Seriously, people fight over sitting in it because it’s THAT amazing), Gizmo at my feet and Squeaks in his lap, and we quiet the Sonos and our minds.

She sits in it more than I do!

She sits in it more than I do!

My bookmark reminds me that already, here in this fist month of the year, we are behind in our reading. Honestly, I don’t think God minds. I don’t see Him carrying a clipboard, checking my nightly reading off a To-Do list or tsking when I crawl under the covers after a long day because that’s all I can do, all I can handle in that moment. And I don’t want to make “Spending Time with God” some item on my list. He deserves more than a space and an empty box between Feed the Cats and Take the Dry Cleaning. So I begin reading of Abraham’s dialogue with God.

“Fifty righteous people?” he asks.

“No problem,” God says.

Back and forth. Abraham bargains with God. God says, “No problem.” For Him, it’s not. Nothing is. Except for maybe the sadness He felt at the need for the bargain in the first place. I am amazed at Abraham’s bravery for asking God to save the sin-filled Sodom and Gomorrah, and stunned by God’s willingness to rescue the whole for the sake of a few. And that’s what it amounted to, really. A few. Ten to be exact. That was their agreement. I wonder if Abraham thought “No problem,” too. If he truly believed ten righteous people existed in S&G.

As the smoke of destruction billowed through the sky, I imagine Abraham said, “I’m sorry, God. I really thought there’d be more.”

My hubby, who sees through an artistic lens, is constantly reminding me that God gave us a blank canvas against the landscape of His masterpiece. He’s right. Life is a beautiful, tragic, majestic, impressionistic, cubist, paint-by-number gift. It’s a story filled with comedy and tragedy, heroes and villains, conflicts and one resolution.  The only resolution that matters. “Would we be counted among the righteous?” I ask my husband.

“I hope so,” he says.

We need to know so.

Several hours later, as we were drifting off to sleep, my hubby turns to me, grabs my hand, and says, “I’m really glad you’re not a pillar of salt.”

So am I, hon. So am I.

A cup of suffering

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I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. My aging cat, unfinished projects, double standards, the future. Cups. Yes, cups. And no, not the Anna Kendrick song from “Pitch Perfect“. Although I love that song. Also not coffee cups. Although I love a good cup of coffee. Especially with Italian Sweet Cream.

How could you not want coffee out of something so cute?

How could you not want coffee out of something so cute?

Mostly I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ cups.

In scripture we see literal cups. But the metaphoric cups are the ones that have been on my mind. When Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, He tried so desperately to get them to understand that their rules, hundreds of which they created themselves, were blinding them to the sheer awesomeness and graciousness of God. He offered them example after example, pleading with them to open their eyes to Who was before them and what He was offering. He addressed their superficial OCD rule-following by pointing out their hypocrisy: “You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!” (Matthew 23:25) All that mattered to them was the appearance of the cup. “Look at me, following the rules. I’m such a good person. Let me announce it in the streets. And put You down for deigning to heal people on the Sabbath. Scoff-scoff.” They practically stalked Him, hoping to catch Him breaking a rule. His very own paparazzi, ready to publicize the slightest slip. I wonder what they would think of my cup?

Mine is filthy, inside AND out. But, hey, I'm a sinner.

Mine is filthy, inside AND out. But, hey, I’m a sinner.

Jesus spoke of another cup. The cup. He left the Last Supper where He passed around a cup, a literal cup filled with the metaphoric representation of the blood He would shed. He ventured up to the Mount of Olives to pray. In solitude. Not surrounded by His twelve or the self-righteous naysayers and non-believing paparazzi. He was alone. Well, not completely. He was with His Father. Filled with the heaviness and knowledge of what was to come, He looked to His Father and said, “If you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me (Luke 22: 42a)” He could have begged. Or stopped it. I would have. I would have run away. I can barely carry the burden of my own sins, let alone the world’s. But not Jesus. He told His Father, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (42b).” He WANTED His Father’s will and He knew what that entailed. His was the only clean cup, inside and out. So it had to be Him.

One of my favorite movies is the mid-nineties hit “When a Man Loves a Woman.” There’s a scene where Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan’s characters are arguing in the kitchen about parenting and Meg is stirring her coffee. Andy, who is all kinds of frustrated, looks at her and says (I’m paraphrasing here), “I think we have enough to deal with, with our coffee and our little spoon.” In the movie it’s a big time “Yikes”. But in reality, it’s true. Some days, it’s all I can do to stir my coffee. Jesus knew that. He saw that. He grabbed my cup, with all of its sin-filled sludge, and drank it. He washed it in His blood, scrubbing away any remnants of my sin, and handed it to His Father. “I’m doing this for her,” He said. “She’s worth it.”

I will remember that. Always. Especially when I’m staring into my own cup of suffering. Because of Him, my cup is clean.

A duck, a gnome, and a camera

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Last weekend was Operation Homework. If you know anything about me at all, you know I’m a big nerd and LOVE homework. I take assignments seriously and am the annoying girl in class who fills Trapper Keepers with notes and asks lots of questions. I could be a perpetual student. The titles and degrees don’t matter to me. It’s the acquired knowledge that gets me doing the happy dance. Maybe that’s why I love Beth Moore Bible studies so much. She is notorious for her in-depth homework, which makes me giddy, and her Texas big hair, which makes me homesick. Sigh. I’m waist-deep in her Daniel study right now and it’s fantabulous. Where was I? Oh yes. Homework. Saturday, armed with my DSLR camera, notebook, and course handout, I ventured into the wilds of my bestie Flea’s backyard for some sunny day snapshots. I chose her yard because, well, she has chickens. And Little Jimmy Dickens. And a gnome. Heh.

For assignment numero uno (see, I took notes in Spanish class), I moved my camera out of automatic mode (the evil green box, as my teacher calls it) to manual mode. This means using my noggin instead of relying on the camera’s built-in intelligence. I adjusted everything, from the ISO and aperture to the white balance and shutter speed. With the sun at my back and a subject in my eye, I composed my picture. It wasn’t until I scrolled through my photos that I realized my shutter speed changed with each shot. Turns out I was not “metering” between the shots but was adjusting my exposure. [insert crickets chirping here…] My teacher explained this to me in last night’s class. I wanted to say “Ahh..”, in a now-I-get-it tone, but honestly, I didn’t get it. So yeah, I took EXTRA notes last night. I am learning more than I thought my, cough-cough, 40-year-old brain could hold. I’m still hazy on most of the technicalities, but haze is better than sludge. So there’s that. Plus, I’m having a blast.

Flea graciously loaned me her backyard AND her pink Crocs. Flash and Patches, her amazing Aussies, joined us as we released Jimmy from his house. And I must say that despite my shutter-speed debacle, the pictures turned out pretty good. For a beginner.

Meet Little Jimmy Dickens. He’s pretty much the cutest thing on webbed feet.

He was about to do the macarena. I just know it.

He was about to do the macarena. I just know it.

For some reason, Jimmy loves the pink Crocs, which is cool since I was able to get some fun shots of him.

Next up is the sideways-glancing Sir Gnome. His is a lonely existence of hanging out on ledges and in random plants. Perhaps I shall get him a friend.

Wherefore art thou, Gnomeo?

Wherefore art thou, Gnomeo?

I took quite a few more pictures outside but had some fun indoors, too. It was Flea and her hunny’s anniversary, so she had a dozen long-stemmed red roses on her dining table. The next photo is my attempt at an artistic composition.

As a matter of fact, I DO hear "Phantom of the Opera" in the background

As a matter of fact, I DO hear “Phantom of the Opera” in the background

I was only a wee bit jealous of the roses. My hubby likes to give me practical gifts. Which is nice. Like last Valentine’s Day, he gave me a ceramic heater and some decks of cards. My brother-in-law said that was my hubby’s way of telling me that if I play my cards right, things might heat up. Heh.

Thanks, Flea, for letting me invade your home.

For my final photo, I put the camera back in auto mode. But, shhhh, don’t tell my teacher. My cat, Squeaks, who you’ve met, tolerates my obsessive picture-taking quite well. For some reason, though, when I returned from my backyard adventure, she developed a bad attitude. I half expected her to flip me the paw. Instead, this is what she did.

Go wash off that duck smell. The gnome, too. Silly human.

Go wash off that duck smell. The gnome, too. Silly human.

Time to go. I have notes to read, homework to complete, and pictures to compose.

I need a booster shot

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I hate shots. I put needles in the same category as Teletubbies, clowns, and the Burger King guy. Pure evil. Cause for simultaneous fleeing and screaming. With the possibility of changing zip codes. I will, however, succumb to the torture and get a shot when sickness is involved. Not just sniffle-and-chill sickness. I’m talkin’ head-in-a-vice, put-me-in-an-ice-bath sickness. When it’s that bad, I don’t care about shots or Teletubbies. I just want to feel better. The last time I incurred the wrath of the syringe, I had an über bad case of bronchitis. The needle was the length of a yardstick and plunged through my tuckus and came out clear on the other side. OK. Not really. But that’s what I kept imagining. I honestly didn’t feel it. I’m pretty sure the nurse was wearing a cape. Either that, or my bronchial delirium was messing with me. The doctor, who seriously looked like a white-haired William Shatner, prescribed meds, rest, and lots of liquid. Within 24 hours, I was breathing out of both nostrils and shedding my quilt cocoon. Sometimes it takes physical illness to appreciate good health.

Thanks, Cori, for this nightmare-inducing picture.

Thanks, Cori, for this nightmare-inducing picture.

I remember getting booster shots as a kid. Since playgrounds were veritable petri dishes of pure-dee yuck, the immunity elixirs were probably a good idea. A weak immune system makes you more susceptible to the pure-dee yucks of this world. And there are some yucks I just don’t want.

It’s no different with spiritual immunity.  A man, who was a leader in a small home-church I no longer attend, once told my grandmother that when it comes to my spiritual life, I am like a fishing bobber, going way down deep for a spell and then popping back up when I’ve lost my footing. Yes, his comments hurt. Yes, I wanted to yank out his eyebrows one by one. In all of his (un)intended cruelty, he was right. My life has had moments of deep, meaningful spiritual health followed by shallow, surface-skimming weakness. But see, I don’t want to be that person anymore. I don’t want to doggy-paddle my way through life. I don’t want to get caught up in the driftwood.

I have discovered that just as I need a doctor when I’m physically sick, I need one when my spiritual immunity is weak. But not the kind with a stethoscope and bad penmanship. I need THE Doctor, the One whose wounds healed me. His orders? First, I need to rest, and not just on Sunday, but I need to rest in Him. “My soul finds rest in God” (Psalm 62:1) for “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29). God tells us in Jeremiah 6 that to find rest for our souls, we should “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it.” His second prescription is to drink plenty of fluids, for Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37), for “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14). I have certainly been tired and thirsty. I think it’s time I followed Doctor’s orders.

Of nephews, pictures, and other addictions

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Seven months ago, my sister and brother-in-law adopted a precious baby boy. Their adoption journey is a post (or 30) for another time, but I will say it was an extremely long and often heartbreaking experience. But my nephew was worth it. Is worth it.

I have never fancied myself a “baby” person. Maybe it’s because I’m the baby of the family. Maybe it’s because none of my friends ever had babies. Or maybe it’s because the few babies I ever held either cried, at ear-drum-puncturing decibels, when I held them OR projectile vomited all over me. And since I’m a sympathetic vomiter…well, you get the picture.

My hubby and I decided long ago that we aren’t the parenting type. Maybe it’s because I am selfish. Maybe it’s because I was a teacher for ten years and saw what the teenage years could do to one’s sanity. Lord knows they wreaked havoc on mine and I got to send the kiddos home at the end of the day. My brother, who is older than my by eight years, has never married. Thus, no kids. My sister and brother-in-law tried to have kids of their own (for years) but my sis had some health issues, meaning pregnancy was not a possibility. They began their adoption journey full of hope. Nearly eight years into it, they had almost given up. My parents resigned themselves to having grandpets, not grandkids. Which is tragic if you know my parents. They’re pretty much the best people you’ll ever meet.

Grandcat, Squeaks.

Grandcat, Squeaks.

Where was I? Oh yeah, seven months ago. I refer to that time as P.B. That’s Pre-Baby B. Yes, I do call him Baby B. I also call him Baby Bears. Well P.B., my camera roll on my phone contained roughly 400 pics. The majority of those were of Squeaks, food, coffee, and my hubby planking. But that’s another post for another time. My camera roll POST Baby B has close to 2000 pics. I don’t know what happened to me. I went from being baby repellent to a blubbering fool who cries when he curls his little fingers around mine. The boy is too cute for words. Maybe that’s why I take so many pictures of him.

See the cuteness? No words!

My family refers to me as Aunt-a-razzi because I’m constantly taking pictures. Baby B loves my camera. He loves me, too, but he really loves my camera. See?

He's trying to eat my phone. And still being too cute for words.

He’s trying to eat my phone. And still being too cute for words.

My sister, who loves being a mommy, adores all the pictures I take but thought it might be great if I could take better-quality photos. Let’s just say I squealed and did the happy dance when I saw my Christmas present—a DSLR camera, two lenses, and a case. Unfortunately, I am a newbie when it comes to photography. Sure I understand the basics, like point and click. Zoom in. Zoom out. Beyond that? Not so much. So I signed up for a beginner photography class. It’s four-weeks of ISOs, apertures, shutter speeds, f-stops, and white balance. I had my first lesson last night. Can’t you tell by all those fancy, new-fangled words I used? All I can say is, SHEESH. It’s not simple. At all. But I love it. I will keep you posted with my progress and pictures along the way. I have a homework assignment due next week that requires sunlight. The forecast is predicting sun, but this is Oklahoma. Who knows what will happen?

Just one more picture of my nephew. It’s OK. You can smile.

This is his new convertible. Hard to believe he's still single.

This is his new convertible. Hard to believe he’s still single.

We are all just crumpled paper

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Words hurt and heal. They shock and inspire. No matter what, they affect us. Sure, we could don our big girl panties and shout at the top of our lungs, “Sticks and stones…” But we know the truth. Uttering “words will never hurt me” is a bold, unrealistic statement. We can stick out our tongues and throw in  a “Nanny nanny boo boo” or two, pretending we are tough, unaffected. But in the solitude of home, where the playground bullies can’t see us, we allow our hearts to cry and our lips to quiver.

Eons ago, when I was a teacher, I would illustrate the power of words by removing a crisp, clean piece of paper from a spiral.  “This,” I would say, “represents you each morning. An untainted piece of paper. However, we don’t stay that way for long.” I would ask them to shout out the negative words they might hear —either from parents, siblings, friends, or even themselves—before ever stepping into a classroom. With each phrase, I would place a small fold in the paper. They would list the things they would hear throughout the day to weaken their resolve or wound them like paper cuts on freshly scrubbed skin. Once I couldn’t fold the paper anymore, I would then ask them to tell me the positive things they might hear throughout the day. Sadly, most of them couldn’t say very much beyond a teacher calling their name during roll. As they offered their “good” words, I would unfold the paper.  And even then, the memory of the folds still lives in the paper.

333

How creased and crumpled is your paper?

When I met Lady Di at our favorite booth on Saturday, we were talking about our week and some of the nastiness we heard from people. We realized just how crumpled we were feeling. But the truth is, I have been guilty (more than I care to admit) of hurting others with my words. I like to keep a folded piece of paper with me to remind me to guard my tongue, for as Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “The tongue can bring death or life.” I’d rather my words be like honey, “sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

When I crawl into a bed at night, sometimes in a million creases from the day, I find solace in words. God’s Word. John 1:1 reminds us that, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Yes. His Word is elixir for my world-weary soul. My heart leaps for joy for The Word brought me life and a clean piece of paper.